O’Bonsawin’s album a love letter to her culture and the north

When singer-songwriter Mimi O’Bonsawin says she lived inside her to-be-released album, Willow, she’s not being poetic.

“We lived inside this album, literally; our recording studio is in our tiny log home and takes over the whole house,” she said. “And for the whole winter, we lived inside this album.”

Like a painter who has endless time to sit at the canvas, perfecting each tiny stroke, O’Bonsawin said she and her partner (and percussionist) Ryan Schurman would get lost in the music.

“We can nitpick every texture that we add, with intention,” she said. “We lived inside the music, we cooked with it, we ate with it, it lived in our house with us. There are some songs that are really introspective and others celebratory. And not one song is like the other. So I’m really excited to share with the world.”

And share it she will, in 2023. For now, fans will have to be sated with two new singles, I am Alive, and Here’s to the Women and a Sept. 22 show at Place des arts as part of Le French Fest, presented by La Slague du Carrefour francophone.

O’Bonsawin said she is glad to be playing in Sudbury again, and her love of Northern Ontario is clear in the video for her new single, I am Alive. Filmed on Manitoulin Island, the video is a hike, with O’Bonsawin as your guide.

“I always tell people, you can take the person out of Northern Ontario, but that landscape and that culture in that community is built into my spirit into my bones,” she said. “I think we have such a beautiful place. And it’s kind of a secret, not a lot of people know how wonderful Northern Ontario is. So I feel like sharing it.”

O’Bonsawin has returned to the stage after taking more of a forced break – a pandemic related one. She is absolutely thrilled to be in front of audiences once more, she told Sudbury.com.

“I love being on stage, it’s my happy place,” O’Bonsawin said. “I think there’s a really special magic that happens when you perform in front of people. You could play a song in your studio all you want, but when you don’t have that energy from people, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t work.”

She said for her, music is about the moments. “When you’re playing live music, you’re sharing a moment that’s never going to be replicated, and everyone who’s sharing that moment, it’s unique to us right now,” O’Bonsawin said. “I think making albums and playing concerts is very much like that. I look at something we recorded even just a few weeks ago, and of course, you could always tweak it because you’re always growing. But there’s something really magical about just kind of cementing that moment in time.”

She has been on stage since she was a child, performing every chance she could, and she said that while she knew music had always been her “medicine” she didn’t realize how much it would be a tool. One that would help her understand her place in the world, a place that would stretch further than her hometown of Sudbury.

“I’m really proud of my ancestry as an Abenaki woman and as a Francophone from Ontario and I like to try and bridge the gap between those two communities through music,” said O’Bonsawin. “But I think what’s really cool now, working with my partner in our studio, is that we get to create music that feels really authentic. We’re never trying to do something that we’re not.”

O’Bonsawin said that this feeling of authenticity, the need to be true to who she is, is also bringing her a sense of duty.

“As I’m finding my place in this world, I feel like I have a duty to represent my ancestors and my community,” she said. “I carry this beautiful last name and this blood and I’m just really grateful.

From one person to the next, the story, the identity is so different. Whether it’s bringing in my cultural teachings, my Francophone community, we’re able to draw on those textures to bring it in in an authentic way. I’m just always honest about where I come from, and then hope that somebody else can feel the courage to do the same.”

O’Bonsawin will perform at French Fest on Sept. 22 from 7 pm until 8:30 pm at La Grande Salle. You can find tickets here

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